How Residential Proximity Affects Students Life
One of the prominent concerns of many students joining college is whether they will be able to enjoy an active and fruitful social life (Clouder, 2012). Consequently, it has become increasingly necessary to know how specifically the proximity to campus affects student engagement. Proximity, in this context, refers to how close or far away from campus a student lives. Students living on campus are taken to be the students living within the campus and those within a walking distance to the campus. Students living off-campus, on the other hand, are those that require commuting to campus from the places they live. Commuting students are defined as students whose place of residence while attending their college studies is not within the campus facilities or within a walking distance to the campus. There have been growing concerns on how living off campus affects students’ engagement. Among the benefits of living on campus is the belief that it makes a student engage in the different school activities, make more friends and develop a larger social network. One of the arguments against living off-campus has been that the distance makes it difficult to be engaged in school activities, develop a social network and create an active social life (Clouder, 2012). However, recent studies have revealed that this is usually a misconception.
With the steady increase of college enrollment over the years, the residences in campuses have also multiplied in number. A huge number of colleges are now experiencing the challenge of trying to satisfy the high number of students with campus housing facilities. This is mainly because of the increased enrolment numbers. In as much as there has been a surge in the number of on-campus facilities, there is still a large number of students who live off-campus simply because they lacked on-campus facilities or because of personal trainers. For a fact, the number of “commuter students” has increased rapidly, more than even the on-campus students. The development of online method of instruction, many students have preferred living off-campus rather than within the campus. With these developments, there has been a growing concern about the value of face-to face interactions between the students and their colleagues and also that with their instructors (Harper & Quaye, 2009). It is therefore necessary to have a clear understanding of how the residential settings of students affect their engagement and their performance.
In the recent times, many college students commute to campus as opposed to living within the campus residences, yet there is still a huge misunderstanding about these students. The stereotypical view has always been that the students who commute to campus are less engaged and committed to academic pursuits and activities as compared to their counterparts who live on-campus. It has always been known that commuting students are usually distracted by the high number of competing demands. As a result, it has been taken as the truth that they are more likely to be less engaged in student activities compared to their classmates and friends who live on campus. This has been a problematic issue given that what students achieve from their experience is usually linked to the amount of time and effort that the student has put into their studies and other activities in the school that would enhance his or her education. Student engagement involves all the activities that have traditionally been associated with learning such as reading, writing, preparations for class and interactions with the teachers. Recently, student engagement has come to include a wide variety of aspects such as collaboration with classmates in completing tasks, skills for problem solving, engagement in social activities and community service among others. Consequently, it has become increasingly important to know whether students who live off-campus are less engaged than their counterparts who live on-campus.
The impact of the geographical constraints in terms of the distance of travel from the students’ living arrangements and campus has received very little attention in empirical literature. As a result, this research study contributes to the literature by providing credible evidence on the impact of off-campus living on student engagement using data collected from a focus group interview. Depicting a sharp contrast from the other studies, the measure of off-campus living in this study is based on the travel time between the students’ living locations and the location of the school. The study would then match this information with the existing data on student engagement in student life, socialization and networking.
Even though detailed information related to travel time and data on education is readily available, it has always been challenging to isolate the impacts of off-campus living because the possible variables (unobservable) may affect both the engagement of the student and the location of schools and immediate families. Very few researchers have attempted to explore this topic further. A study carried out by Harper & Quaye (2009)revealed the nearness to schools does not affect their decision to participate and engage in different school activities. However, they also found out that the distance issue mattered for the students who posted mediocre grades in compulsory education. The more the distance increase between their homes and school, the more likely they are to be less involved in compulsory education and more likely join vocational training. Moreover, they found out that distance mattered a great deal for the students who came from disadvantaged backgrounds. In his study, Jacoby (2015) observed that students who live in campus attained more years of education than their counterparts living further away from the campuses.
The distance that the students live from campus has been the main issue with students living off-campus (Darling, 2015). The other issue has been the disconnection that these students feel from the students living on-campus. This has often led to many students living in close proximity to the school so that the campus is just a short distance away from their living arrangements (Smith & Weiten, 2001).. In as much as the increasing distance between the school and students’ living arrangement is a factor, there are a number of opportunities available to students living off-campus that would encourage their engagement is school. In as much as living on-campus has an array of benefits to a student life, very little is known about the limitations of such an arrangement to student engagement. For example, on-campus residences do not offer the freedom and flexibility that off-campus facilities offer. Students living in the on-campus residences are subject to rules and regulations which may limit student engagement in certain activities beyond a certain time (Smith & Weiten, 2001).. Also, these regulations affect student plans with regard to socialization. On the other hand, students living off-campus enjoy the freedom, independence and flexibility and hence able to be engaged more in activities or socialize more. Students living off-campus may be subjects of constant disturbance and derailment, especially if they live with their parents, which may affect their engagement or studies in general. Students living on-campus are also subjects to such derailments given the high number of activities taking place, noise and demanding friends.
It is important to note that students do not socialize solely on campus. There are a number of places outside the campus that students can network and socialize. Students living on-campus often take trips to off-campus locations to partake in different social activities. Hence, student engagement involves the participation in educational activities that take place both within the campus and off the campus, regardless of the student living arrangement (Lopez & Wodtke, 2010). There is a huge body of literature indicating the various benefits of on-campus living but very little on off-campus living. As a result there is a huge information gap that has translated to misconceptions about off-campus living. In as much as much as living on-campus has an array of benefits to a student, very little has been done to show the negative effects on student life. Off-campus living has always been subjected to bias given that the negative aspects to student life are the ones that are usually highlighted (Darling, 2015). It has hence been taken as the truth that the further a student lives from the campus, the less likely he or she would be engaged with school activities and the boring his or her social life. As such, this study sought to find out how proximity affects student engagement and how specifically living off-campus affects student engagement. The results of this study will add valuable information to the limited existing literature on off-campus living. The results can also be employed in changing school policies and people’s (student’s) perception on off-campus living.
This study employed the focus group interview as a method of data collection. Focus group interviews have been found effective in the supplying of information about how people act, act and feel about a certain topic. Focus group interviews are a qualitative method of research and are very effective in answering questions regarding how people consider an idea, event or experience.
The focused group study took place on University of California, Irvine Campus, on the 29th June, 2015 between 1:05pm and 1:32pm. UCI was well suited to the study of off-campus living on student educational engagements because the proximity to the school varies a great deal of data. Also, UCI is homogenous in terms of the culture and its facilities. Hence, it provided the perfect setting to carry out this particular study. A small seminar room within the campus facilities was identified as the perfect place to conduct the interviews in that it offered circle seating and also a comfortable environment. Prior to conducting the focused group interviews, a central location conducive for the data collection was identified. Also, a moderator had to be identified and a tape recorder acquired in advance before the interviews. The tape recorder was to be used to record the questions and the responses of the participants.
The moderator was identified way before the material date of the focused group interview. The moderator was a person that had a vast knowledge about the topic and had the necessary skills to moderate the interviews so as not to go out of control or take more time. The focused group interviews entailed the moderator asking a set of question on an array of topics concerning student life such as financial costs, friendship, time management and constraints, involvement and engagement in games, clubs and societies among many others. The moderator was supposed to ensure that each participant shared their views on the questions posed and each one of them was allocated adequate time. The moderator was charged with ensuring constructive discussions on the topic in order to obtain the qualitative data needed from the participants.
The focused group comprised of six participants. The participants, together with the moderator, were drawn from our class. The six participants drawn comprised of three males and three females to ensure a gender balance. In as much as all the participants came from different and diverse ethnic backgrounds, they had homogenous qualities in relation to their living arrangements. All the participants of the study lived off-campus and hence needed to commute to school. This implied that all of them were categorized as students living off-campus according to this research study. All the six participants had similar characteristics in that they all needed to commute to campus. All the six participants in the study lived off-campus; a distance of less than 15 minutes from their living arrangements to school. Even though all the participants in the research study were categorized as living off-campus, they each had different living arrangements. One of the participants lived at home with the parents and the other lived in rental apartment. One of the participants lived with friends and hence was able to split his rent while the others lived by themselves. Each of the six participants was assigned a number between one and six. Assigning different numbers to the participants ensured that the moderator did not refer to the participants by their names which could have affected the data collection process. I took part in the focused group interview as a participant (participant two). My role was to give answers to the questions that were posed to me by the moderator. I was to give an honest opinion on how I thought living off-campus has affected my student engagement in terms of school activities, class room group discussions and socialization.
The focused group interviews took place on June 29, 2015 between 1:05pm and 1:32pm. The focused group interview took place during the lunch hour and was deemed as the appropriate time to conduct the interviews given that each participant in the study was free. The focused group interview was to take exactly 27 minutes. The time stamp was a 5 minute intervals from one question to the other. This means that it took five minutes for answering of the questions by the participants in the study. All the participants of the study were required to meet at small seminar room five minutes before the commencement of the focused group interview. The moderator began the focused group interviews by welcoming all the participants of the study and explaining to them what the interview was all about and what their roles in the interview would be. He further explained that a tape recorder would be used to record the interviews and thereafter transcribing would be carried out to facilitate analysis of the data. All the participants agreed to be recorded.
After exchanging pleasantries, the moderator threw a question related to proximity and student life to the participants and each of them was to give a response based on how the topic in the question was related to his or her student life. The moderator started the discussion with asking the participants the general question on how residential proximity has affected their lives at UCI. Most of the participants felt like they spent less living off-campus on rent. For me, it was different because I live alone and hence I spend slightly more. The moderator explored further the topic asking the different factors influencing a choice to live off-campus rather than on-campus and the effects on the living costs. For me, I am not comfortable sharing certain amenities such as bathrooms with the other students, even though this was not the sole reason. Further, the moderator posed the question of friendship and how it was affected by living off campus. The moderator explored the topic from how we socialize, time we socialize and the places we socialize. Next, the moderator posed the question on engagement in different clubs within the campus. This question also sought to find out the dedication to the different classroom activities and whether there time constraints with regard to participating from the activities. Lastly, the moderator explored the topic of transportation and distance from the campus, and how it affected our student engagement in student life. After exactly 27 minutes, the moderator concluded the focused group interview by thanking the participants for taking part. Unidentified participants cheered and thanked the moderator for the wonderful session. The participants dispersed and headed to class.
Data collected via the focused group interviews was transcribed and checked for clarity and accuracy. Transcribing is making the speech recorded in the recording device is readable. This involved listening vigilantly to the participants in the study, careful note taking and a sensitive and accurate interpretation of the data recorded. Thereafter, there was editing of the grammatical errors found in the speech of the participants. This was carefully done to ensure that the meanings were not lost.
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Darling, R. A. (2015). Creating an Institutional Academic Advising Culture That Supports Commuter Student Success. New Directions for Student Services, 2015, 150, 87-96.
Harper, S. R., & Quaye, S. J. (2009). Student engagement in higher education: Theoretical perspectives and practical approaches for diverse populations. New York, NY: Routledge.
Jacoby, B. (2015). Enhancing Commuter Student Success: What's Theory Got to Do With It?. New Directions for Student Services, 2015, 150, 3-12.
López, T. R., & Wodtke, G. (2010). College Residence and Academic Performance: Who Benefits From Living on Campus?. Urban Education, 45, 4, 506-532.
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